Mark Levinson No523/No534 pre/power amplifier Page 2

Hurricane Wings
Again there are the same control ports on the power amp, along with unbalanced and XLR inputs, and the speaker outputs are on two pairs of Mark Levinson's 'Hurricane' terminals, with 'wings' to make them easy to tighten should you be using spade connectors. And inside? Well, our 'lid off' shot more or less tells the whole story: the No534 is built around a massive toroidal transformer – which shouts on its top-plate that it's an 'Ultra-Low Noise' design – mounted centre front, and of an entirely dual-mono construction with those amp boards, plus 12 power transistors a side mounted straight onto the heatsinks, to the left and right of the housing. While other amps stick to aluminium for their casework, the No534 supplements it with cold-rolled steel. You know: just in case it wasn't already weighty enough...

sqnote.jpgUnstoppable Power
How does this Mark Levinson No523/No534 pre/power duo sound? Well, let's put it this way – this combination could only appear more purposeful were the power amp to be fitted with a pair of chromed smokestacks, complete with pop-up lids, which belched plumes of black smoke when it was thundering out a bass line!

That's how unstoppably powerful this pre/power amp is whenever required, with rock-solid bass reaching deep and ripe, yet above it a remarkable agile midband and treble that makes a wide range of musical styles spring to life in totally vivid manner. 'Unflappable' doesn't really cover it. In practice the Levinson duo always sounds not just in its comfort zone, but as if it's saying 'That all you got?'. However hard you think you're pushing it, whether with the choice of music or the levels you select, you're really only ever at First Base Camp of the abilities here.


Easy To Live With
That's as true when you're playing the full-on weight of Gov't Mule's live The Deepest End [Evangeline/ATO Records; GELD 4070] – which is a total low-frequency-fest complete with a starry roster of guest bassists – or unleashing the Wagnerian power of Friedman Dressler's The Symphonic Ring [Acousence Classics; ACO-CD21309; 192kHz/24-bit].

The latter, also a live recording, delivers the sensational dynamics and drama of the Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Jonathan Darlington in a really visceral manner, and when you combine that with the No523/No534's remarkable combination of grip, grunt and finesse the result is entirely spine-tingling.

Yes, this duo will do polite when you want, and works as well with a small jazz trio as it does with solo piano, or even those wispy singer-songwriter recordings displaying just a little too much earnestness for their own good...


If there's a criticism, it's a small one: those who like their music lush and tamed may find they're just a bit too keen to deliver all the information they're given with equal force, which can make them sound a little brash with some overly lively speakers. However, where they really excel is with music that's built on a foundation of thunder and serious atmosphere. They charge into the final few tracks of Fleetwood Mac's The Dance [Reprise 9362-46702-2], turning on the big smiles when the USC Marching Band kick in on 'Tusk', the blare of the brass shooting through the great big gorgeous rich mix of this track and its successor 'Don't Stop'.

Even after several runs at that, the heatsinks of the No534 were only warmish to the touch. So this is a well-mannered powerhouse, as easy to live with as it isn't to lug from the packaging, partnered with a preamp fully able to deliver the music in a manner that's sympathetic to the No534 doing its stuff. And that 'stuff', I'm bound to say, is really rather addictive.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Overkill for many systems, but this amplifier combination is resolutely old school in its styling and sheer mass, rewarding those able to accommodate it with a sound as revealing as it is room-shaking. It's no great surprise that Mark Levinson amps are still on many a wish-list, with enviable kudos – you only have to hear the No523 and No534 pre/power to realise that its hard-won reputation is in very safe hands.

Harman International Ind.
Northridge, CA, USA
Supplied by: Harman Luxury Audio Group (UK), Cambridge
01223 203200